Cochrane: GPs need more support for earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Alliance East Belfast MLA, Judith Cochrane, has called on the Health Minister to give greater support to GPs for the earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She was speaking in the Assembly during a debate which called on the Minister to introduce new referral guidelines and to promote training and support for GPs to boost early diagnosis rates.

Judith Cochrane MLA said: “Like many similar campaigns for other types of cancer, this debate provided an opportunity to celebrate with those who have survived, remember those who have been lost to the disease as well as raising awareness and funds for the charity. It is also an opportunity for the Assembly to assess our current approach to tackling this disease and whether more can be done to prevent or treat it.

“The difference in survival rates across the UK is telling – England currently has a five year survival rate of 4.7% and Wales 5.4%. Northern Ireland has a five year survival rate of just 3% which lags far behind the European average of 6.9%, so it is clear there is work to be done.

“It has been claimed that 40% of patients visit their GP three times or more before a specialist referral. There is solid data to support this, but we need to be careful not to simply blame our GPs for being selective about referring patients who have with common and usually benign symptoms. As there is no specific biological marker to indicate malignant disease it can be extremely difficult to detect and diagnose pancreatic cancer, especially in its early stages.

“I do believe however that there is an onus on the Health Minister and his Department to encourage GPs to make use of freely-available and validated diagnostic aids – for example, the Macmillan Cancer Decision Support Tool, as well as open learning opportunities like the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Pancreatic Cancer E-Learning Module.

“If we are to reduce the number of deaths due to pancreatic cancer then we must not only work to improve diagnosis but also continue to combat the three greatest risk factors: smoking, obesity, and excessive alcohol intake – for prevention, as we all know, is better than a cure.”


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